Press Release

West Health and UC San Diego Health Celebrate Grand Opening of New Gary and Mary West Senior Emergency Care Unit

5 min
February 26, 2019
New state-of-the-art facility is cornerstone of Gary and Mary West’s philanthropic efforts to improve emergency care for seniors across the country.

SAN DIEGO, CA February 26, 2019 The Gary and Mary West Senior Emergency Care Unit (SECU)—a state-of-the-art emergency care unit for older adults that is the first “gold” accredited geriatric emergency department in California and the only one west of the Mississippi—celebrated its grand opening last week at UC San Diego Health in La Jolla. This marks a key milestone in Gary and Mary West’s philanthropic efforts dedicated to lowering the cost of healthcare and improving care for seniors.

Elected officials Congressman Scott Peters and San Diego Council President Pro Tem Barbara Bry, along with UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla and others, joined Gary and Mary West to thank them for their generosity and commitment to improving emergency care for seniors at the ribbon-cutting event on Tuesday, Feb. 19, which was declared Gary and Mary West Day in the City of San Diego.

The opening of the SECU, which began seeing patients in January, marks a pivotal step in West Health and UC San Diego Health’s collaboration to improve the hospital experience for older adults by focusing on the emergency room—often considered the “front porch” of healthcare and the hospital system, where almost half of seniors are typically admitted to the hospital.

“Seniors in San Diego now have an emergency department with processes and enhancements to provide a better and more dignified experience during an extremely vulnerable time,” said Shelley Lyford, president and CEO of West Health, which includes a nonprofit foundation, institute and policy center. “Through our collaboration with UC San Diego Health, we are leading the way to wider adoption of geriatric emergency departments across the nation, ultimately improving outcomes and quality of life for seniors before, during and after a medical crisis.”

“When Mary and I established our foundation more than a decade ago, we wanted to disrupt the healthcare system for the benefit of seniors whose unique needs require enhanced levels of attention,” said Gary West, co-founder of West Health. “Today, we are proud to be bringing our vision for senior-friendly emergency care to San Diego, which we believe can serve as a blueprint for the entire nation.”

Major West Health milestones in improving geriatric emergency care include:

UCSD and West Health leadership teams

Adapted to Seniors’ Needs

The U.S. Census estimates that by 2029 the entire baby boomer demographic group will be 65 or older, with seniors representing 20 percent of the population. More than 21.3 million patients over the age of 65 were treated in emergency rooms in 2015, according to the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, up from approximately 16 million in 2001. These numbers are projected to continue to rise.

As previously announced, the SECU, located within the Gary and Mary West Emergency Department at UC San Diego Health, is the first in California to treat qualifying patients over the age of 65 in a dedicated space customized for geriatric emergency care. The accredited geriatric emergency department features architectural design elements for older patients, such as carefully calibrated lighting and improved acoustics, safety and comfort. The customized waiting room boasts chairs with high backs and sturdy arms and legs to assist seniors in sitting and standing. The 11 new SECU patient rooms are equipped with sound-absorbing walls and ceilings to reduce ambient noise; a variable lighting system that orients patients to the actual time of day; and contrasting colors between walls and floors and between toilet and chair seats and floors to improve mobility and reduce fall risk.

“Although we have been delivering specialized senior emergency care for more than two years, this new physical space allows older adults to be cared for in an environment that better meets their needs than a traditional emergency room setting,” said Vaishal Tolia, MD, MPH, FACEP, medical director of the Emergency Department at UC San Diego Health and director of the Gary and Mary West Senior Emergency Care Unit (SECU). “We are very excited to provide this unprecedented service to our senior patients and their caregivers.”

“Senior patients face common complications, such as being at a high risk for falls and cognitive and memory problems. All patients in the SECU are treated by a team with special training in geriatric medicine, including pharmacists to manage medications and social workers to ensure a smooth transition home upon discharge,” said Ted Chan, MD, chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at UC San Diego Health. “Our goal with the SECU is to lower hospital admissions and readmissions in this patient population.”

Other notable features of the SECU include a nursing station visible from all patient rooms and a private lounge to offer caregivers and others with a place to relax when visits last longer than anticipated. The SECU also features original artwork from local San Diego surf artist Aaron Chang.

“Gary and Mary West are incredible philanthropists with large and generous hearts for seniors. Their gift to UC San Diego Health paves the way to innovative care in emergency medicine with the opening of the SECU,” said Patty Maysent, CEO, UC San Diego Health. “Our dedicated staff has worked tirelessly over the past few years to make this vision a reality. We are grateful for the opportunity to continue providing outstanding care to our community in all of its diversity.”

To download b-roll footage and photography of the SECU, please visit

Click here for more info on the SECU.

Media contacts:

Tim Ingersoll, West Health Institute, 858-412-8727,

Michelle Brubaker, UC San Diego Health, 858-249-0456,

About West Health
Solely funded by philanthropists Gary and Mary West, West Health is a family of nonprofit and nonpartisan organizations including the Gary and Mary West Foundation and Gary and Mary West Health Institute in San Diego, and the Gary and Mary West Health Policy Center in Washington, D.C. West Health is dedicated to lowering healthcare costs to enable seniors to successfully age in place with access to high-quality, affordable health and support services that preserve and protect their dignity, quality of life and independence. Learn more at and follow @westhealth.

About UC San Diego Health
UC San Diego Health, the region’s only academic health system, is dedicated to delivering outstanding patient care through commitment to community, groundbreaking research and inspired teaching. For 2018-19, U.S. News and World Report ranked UC San Diego Health among the nation’s best in six adult medical and surgical specialties, including pulmonology, geriatrics, cardiology, cancer, neurology and orthopedics. The 808-bed academic health system includes UC San Diego Medical Center in Hillcrest and Jacobs Medical Center, Sulpizio Cardiovascular Center, Moores Cancer Center, Shiley Eye Institute, Koman Family Outpatient Pavilion and Altman Clinical and Translational Research Institute, all in La Jolla, as well as primary care and same-day services at clinics throughout Southern California. For more information, visit (